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Court to Consider Petition to Protect Pronghorn Migration Route

Both sage grouse and pronghorn avoid oil and gas development, which has been shown to cause declines in their populations. (NPS)
Both sage grouse and pronghorn avoid oil and gas development, which has been shown to cause declines in their populations. (NPS)
February 26, 2020

PINEDALE, Wyo. -- Conservation groups are challenging the Trump administration's plans to allow 3,500 new gas wells in southwestern Wyoming.

Oil and gas companies welcomed the move to allow production on the Normally Pressured Lance Project, the 140,000-acre area south of Pinedale, but critics warn the expansion would block pronghorn access to critical winter ranges.

Linda Baker, executive director of the Upper Green River Alliance, said it's no surprise that when habitat is degraded and fragmented, wildlife populations suffer.

"Well, we've seen this before," she said. "The two other gas fields that are north of the NPL, we had a study on mule deer, and that showed a 39% decline over 12 years of study."

Gov. Mark Gordon did not include the ancient Path of the Pronghorn in his recent executive order on migration, in part to avoid disrupting natural-gas development already under construction. The first federally designated migration corridor for pronghorn connects Grand Teton National Park and winter range in the Upper Green River Basin.

Baker said the Sublette pronghorn herd already has declined by 40% in the last decade. Because pronghorn won't deviate from the ancient routes, Baker worries that energy production could result in the loss of Grand Teton's entire population of some 300 pronghorns. She said she believes the Bureau of Land Management should refocus its efforts on protecting all wildlife that rely on the sagebrush sea.

"Wildlife-based recreation is the second-biggest economic engine in the state of Wyoming," she said, "and it will thrive if we take care of the habitats that support it."

A petition recently filed by a coalition of conservation groups in a U.S. District Court in Casper argues that the BLM approved oil and gas development in the NPL without properly analyzing the potential harm to pronghorn and greater sage grouse from drill-site infrastructure. Conservation groups originally challenged the NPL project in April. Last summer, some of the claims were transferred to the federal court in Casper.

The petition is online at westernwatersheds.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY